As the holiday season approaches, the annual Christmas party is something that many of your staff eagerly look forward to. While a time for celebration and an opportunity to socialise with colleagues, employers must be mindful of potential legal risks associated with these gatherings. Alcohol mixed with a festive atmosphere can increase the likelihood of an inappropriate incident occurring even more.
Company Christmas parties are an extension of the workplace, requiring employers to take reasonable steps to ensure employee well-being and prevent unlawful behaviour. In cases of misconduct like discrimination or harassment, employers may be held vicariously liable unless they show proactive management.
Unwanted incidents can lead to various claims, impacting the employer’s reputation, morale, and have a financial impact. Below is a short list to consider when organising a safe and enjoyable work function while minimising the risk of liability:
1. Clear Policies
Ensure that comprehensive workplace behaviour policies are in place and communicated well before the event, acquainting employees with their obligations for maintaining acceptable and respectful behaviour. Whilst this communication can at times not be taken seriously by employees, it is important as an employer to be proactive.
2. Moderate Alcohol & Offer Options
Exercise prudence when serving alcohol, offering substantial food (more than just finger food) and non-alcoholic beverages, and setting a defined end time for the event to mitigate issues arising from excessive alcohol consumption. Emotions can run high at the end of the year and alcohol can exacerbate this.
3. Social Media
Advise employees to exercise caution when posting event photos on social media to avoid potential reputational damage and claims related to bullying and sexual harassment. Australian employment law takes social media use very seriously and there are several cases that have resulted in the dismissal of staff, even when the event has been outside of work hours.
Provide travel options for your employees, ensuring they get home safely. Budgeting for Uber or Taxi Vouchers/Reimbursements should be part of the organisation of the event.
In conclusion, while the Christmas party is a time for celebration, professional responsibilities persist during the festive season. Through proactive risk management, clear communication of expectations, and the promotion of responsible behaviour, employers can ensure a cordial and enjoyable event for everyone involved. As you prepare for this year’s Christmas celebrations, approach them with confidence, knowing that appropriate planning will make it a night to remember (for the right reasons!)